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Judge Walker did what Jesus would do

Posted by Margot Magowan at 20th August, 2010

Originally posted to my blog ReelGirl on August 15th, 2010

I’m thrilled that Chief Judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, Vaughn Walker, lifted his temporary stay on his brilliant ruling striking down Prop 8. His eloquent, almost 140 page decision is now a part of America’s history of civil rights and makes me proud to be a San Franciscan.

My Wedding pic

I disagree with one major point Walker made: his implication that allowing gays to marry doesn’t affect heterosexual unions. On the contrary, I believe his decision profoundly and permanently pushes all marriages’ potential much further towards something sacred.

Gays’ monumental battle to win the right of marriage has vivified an antiquated institution, highlighting everything good about marriage– vows, love, commitment– and helping to get rid of the negative origins of it: men exchanging property.

To summarize history: marriage began as a financial contract, to control the means of reproduction: women. ‘Traditional’ marriage is when women had no social, political, or financial power, when they were not allowed to own property and only valued for how many children they could bear, marriage existed to ritualize and legalize the transfer of ownership from fathers to husbands.

Because of this messed up history, vestiges still present in ceremonies today (brides ‘given away’ by father to husband, wearing virginal white, veiled, officiator asking if anyone knows why they shouldn’t marry originally meaning evidence that the bride is not a virgin etc etc.) I always knew I would never get married. Why bother with all that?

But a few things happened to change my mind.

In 2000, the year before I met my husband, I was living in San Francisco, producing programs for talk radio station KGO. The airwaves were full of listeners who wanted to comment about on one of first hit reality shows: “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?”

Even I, cynical me who thought marriage was a silly piece of paper and didn’t get why anyone would want to participate in it, was shocked and offended by what a travesty this TV program made of it. As you may remember, the show began with introducing 50 women, all competing for the grand prize of marriage to multimilionaire, Rick Rockwell, their union to be sealed in the finale with a ceremony and pricey engagement ring.

The women stepped into the klieg lights wearing everything from bathing suits to wedding gowns, to be rated by the judges. The millionaire man was safely shrouded in a darkened booth– it was like a voyeuristic a peep show on national TV. Thousands of years after biblical times, women were being measured by how ‘beautiful’ they were while male worth was measured by wallet size.

During one of the worst sequences, each finalist had 30 seconds to convince Mr. Multimillionaire that she was the one he should choose. While the guitar rock porn played in the background, the women stepped in the spotlight, pleading with phrases like: “I know just how to please a man.”

At the end of the show, Mr. Multimillionaire chose his bride, Darva Conger. How could there be any presumption of honesty or integrity in the marriage vows when they were taken just moments after meeting his wife to be, promising to love her until death? As you may remember, the marriage didn’t last.

But this is what really got me about the show. Right at the same time this was aired and discussed on talk radio programs, San Franciscans were also debating Prop 22– which was basically the same as Prop 8. And just as with Prop 8, the argument was usually framed as ‘family values’ versus gays destroying the sacred tradition of marriage. That Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell were allowed to get married and gays weren’t struck me as incredibly hypocritical, and I wrote about it for the Chronicle. It was so apparent to me that if marriage was going to survive and thrive, appeal to my generation and generations to come, it needed to continue to evolve, as it always has since its origin. The marriage contract is a living document. If we allow it to be dead, we’ll have dead marriages. Instead, we ought to hang on to the best of it and leave behind those elements that discriminate and reduce human beings to property, including not allowing gays to marry.

It was pretty amazing for me, a white, heterosexual woman, belonging to a group where marriage had always been valued and encouraged, to witness people fight for a right I’d always taken for granted, if not scorned, considered more prison sentence than any kind of liberation. Now I’d written and published an article about how important and romantic marriage could be while I’d previously always argued it was sexist and absurd.

A year after Prop 22 events continued to keep gays from legally marrying, I fell in love and got pregnant. These events alone would not have convinced me to marry. But ever since the confluence of bad ‘reality’ TV and Prop 22, I’d been rethinking marriage and what it really meant and could be. Throw into that mix I was in love with a catholic guy who wanted to marry was enough to make me go to Las Vegas and do it. I decided that perhaps I had underestimated marriage or didn’t understand it fully; my rebellion against it was adolescent in its rigid, know-it-all predictability; I was simply systematically trying to break the rules that I was supposed to be following; maybe we could make marriage our own thing.

Many of my friends had shotgun weddings. Like me, they had careers they loved, dated and worked through their twenties, and in their thirties, met their husbands and got pregnant pretty quickly. Vera Wang should’ve designed a line just for my slutty generation of thirtysomething women, brides who got knocked up and then tied the knot like it was something that was meant to go together in one sitting, a well balanced meal, meat and potatoes. Of those paired events, having a baby was supposed to be the big deal, the life-altering event. Getting married wasn’t really supposed to change anything.

But I was wrong about marriage. Making a lifelong commitment to one person is one of the most intense, crazy, hopeful, metamorphosing thing two people can do. I was totally unprepared for what marriage really is; I thought it was no big deal. And yes, this can all be done without calling it ‘marriage’ or going through a ceremony or making it legal, but all those events help to underscore the reality of what a huge event making these promises– and striving to live up to them– is.

Seven years later marriage remains ever-evolving, mysterious, and magical. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I think because it’s impossible to be in an intimate and passionate relationship with your spouse unless you are going to practice forgiveness daily and commit to radically growing as a human being. In other words, wonder what Jesus would do. There are other venues, I suppose, to staying with one person for life. There is white knuckling it, having affairs; there are martinis.

Not long after I married, I read an intense book by Swiss Jungian psycholgist Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig called Marriage Dead or Alive. It’s kind of over the top, but it fascinated me. The thesis is that marriage is not for everyone– and that doesn’t mean its for straight people and not gays. It means some people have a calling for it and some don’t. No one should feel pressure to get married because that’s the worst reason to do it, don’t get married for security, or money, or because you want to have kids. He argues that choosing to be alone needs to be much more of a socially acceptable decision. He writes that everyone has a calling for salvation, for some it may be playing the cello, for some it may be marriage, and those are the only ones who should get married.

The introduction to the book is by David Dalrymple. Here’s a quote:

Relationship, like much of life,is about the suffering alchemy of making soul. Lives are lived for meaning, not happiness, for destiny, not adaptation, for soul, not peace. Guggenbuhl writes that maybe the best instrument for achieving this is marriage, but it is a path for the few, not the masses. Marriage unleashes the demons of transformation or destruction deeper, faster, and longer than any other human cultural creation. Marriage might kill you before it heals you unless you stay conscious, alert, and disciplined. This is not designer psychology but a psychology of the bluntness of life and it’s unrelenting, tempering cauldrons of suffering– not sadistic suffering but transformative suffering which teaches us life’s wisdom is gained at a cost.

Marriage is evolving. It always has been. Thank you to Judge Walker for helping to move it along. Here are some of my favorite books about it:

The Meaning of Wife, Anne Kingston

Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time, Stephen Mitchell

Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert

Marriage, A History, Stephanie Coontz

A History of the Wife, Marilyn Yalom

One Perfect Day, Rebecca Mead

Into the Garden, A Wedding Anthology, edited by Robert Haas and Stephen Mitchell

Altared, edited by Colleen Curan

Why I’m Still Married, edited by Karen Propp and Jean Trounstien

Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch

The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, John Gottman

About Margot Magowan

Margot Magowan has written 18 articles on this blog.

Margot Magowan is a writer and commentator. Her articles on politics and culture have been in Salon, Glamour, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, and numerous other newspapers. She has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, Fox News and other TV and radio programs. She is the co-founder of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership.

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